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21-year-old student joins board

AURORA (AP) — Ignacio "Nacho" Cervantes Jr. is the kind of guy who won't go out all weekend unless he's done with his work.

These days, that means balancing his duties as the youngest board of education member in the history of East Aurora School District 131, his studies as a junior at Aurora University — where he keeps a 3.7 GPA and serves as president of the Latin American Student Organization — and his work as co-owner of Tacos Junior, his family's Aurora catering business.

Nacho, 21, will be among the recipients of the 2013 Phenomenal Men of the Year awards next month from the Aurora-based organization Boys II Men, which encourages young black and Latino men to achieve excellence.

"I am very dedicated in everything that I do," the Aurora man said. "When I have family or cousins or friends that invite me to go out, if I don't finish my work, I won't go out.

"Every time (people) tell me I can't do something, even if in the back of my head I'm saying 'I cannot do that, I cannot do that,' I want to prove myself wrong. With school, with every sport, if I'm running for an office. With everything."

Nacho's inspiration is his parents, Ignacio Sr. and Lourdes Cervantes, who taught him to aim high.

"My dad always told me he didn't want me to suffer like he has suffered, working hard," Nacho said. "He always showed me his hands, telling me if I wanted to work a job like his, these are the hands of a working man. I'm not saying that's bad, but it encouraged me to be goal-driven."

East Aurora School District 131 Board President Annette Johnson said Nacho brings a great perspective to the board, on which he previously served as a student board member during his senior year in high school.

Nacho was appointed in 2011, after coming in fourth among candidates seeking three spots on the board. After the election, two seats became vacant — one after a board member resigned for personal reasons, the other after a judge declared another member ineligible.

"The biggest thing (Nacho) does is bring the students' voice," Johnson said. "With the curriculum, he knows what worked for the students and what didn't. For example, he suggested more study skills classes because when he went to college, he found that to be deficient."

Nacho also comes to meetings armed with extra research, she said.

"He is always well-prepared. He reads his board packet, and he is good with social media and more modern-day (social media) techniques. He does a good job of researching his topics."

Nacho is a "listen more and speak less" kind of guy, said fellow board member Raymond Hull.

But when he does speak up, his voice can make a difference, as during a recent closed-session discussion about the district's policy regarding transgendered students, Hull said.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss what was said. However, it allowed me to see that he was fully aware of the gravity of the issue. He was able to articulate his position on the matter and his opinion changed the direction of the dialogue," he said.

Jose Chavez, 21, a LASO member at Aurora University, said Nacho is a great role model, especially for Latino students.

Nacho always encourages fellow students to do better — and try different things, Jose said.

"I think he's a natural born leader," he said. "Ever since I met him, he's been very involved with different activities, organizations and community service. He's definitely a motivator, especially for the freshman class."

Nacho said his parents always motivated him.

Ignacio Sr. and Lourdes met as children in their native Mexico. After they got married in 1990, Lourdes moved to the United States, where Ignacio Sr. worked in a factory. Nacho and his sister Caritina, 17, a senior at East Aurora High School, were born in the United States.

Ignacio Sr. has a sixth-grade education, while Lourdes reached ninth grade. Nacho said they always encouraged him to do well in school.

"They always helped me with homework," he said. "I was in bilingual classes until the fifth grade. Then I went into English classes, so it was harder for them to help (after that)."

The Cervanteses became emotional when talking about their son's success.

"I always wanted to be a good example, and to give him as much as I could," Ignacio Cervantes said.

"We always wanted him not to go through the difficulties we went through, or the difficulties our parents went through," Lourdes Cervantes said.

In high school, Nacho was a member of the National Honor Society and Tomcast Stars, a group that mentors elementary school kids. He ran varsity cross-country until an injury made him switch to being a soccer goalie his senior year. He graduated 11th in his class of about 500 students.

Throughout his childhood, he also worked after school for Sodexo on the Waubonsee Community College campus, and helped his father with his catering business, Tacos Junior, at events like birthdays, quinceaneras, first communions, weddings and more.

"Did I resent it? Yes and no," Nacho said. "Yes, because I knew I would be losing my weekends to have fun and be with friends. No, because I was helping my dad and making money, and also spending time with him, because he worked a lot."

Nacho said he decided to run for the District 131 school board because he wanted to have a greater impact than he did as a student board member.

"The board focused too much on business instead of worrying about the students. I'm not saying they were doing a bad job, but as a young person who just graduated from high school, I felt the board should focus more on the students," said Nacho, whose goal is to go to graduate school and become a foreign service officer.

Nacho said he believes in the importance of exposing students to the real world. Most recently, he's been pushing for a leadership development program that would allow East Aurora students to attend the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute's annual conference in Chicago.

"A lot of students here in Aurora have not even gotten out of Aurora," he said.

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